Radio History -
Many people associate 1941 with the bombing of Pearl Harbor on 7 December, "a date which will live in infamy," as President Roosevelt put it. But while the entry of the United States into World War 2 certainly overshadowed everything else, 1941 was a memorable year for a number of other reasons.
To fully understand what occurred in the media in 1941, we need to examine some of the historical events of that year. 1941 began with a happy occasion-- on 20 January, the very popular FDR was inaugurated for an unprecedented third term; Henry Wallace was his Vice President. But events in Europe were on the minds of many Americans. The Nazis were becoming more threatening, and on 27 May, President Roosevelt went on radio (as he had done so many times before) to announce an unlimited national emergency after German forces over-ran Greece and Yugoslavia, and also invaded Crete. It was becoming more and more obvious that America would not be able to remain neutral about the war in Europe; in July, FDR nationalised the armed forces of the Philippines (which was still a US dependency back then) and placed them under the command of the new commander-in-chief of all US forces in the Far East-- General Douglas MacArthur.
As events in Europe looked increasingly grim, Americans were tuning in to their radios to hear the latest developments. If you listened to Mutual (which in its formative years mainly offered radio dramas and serials), you heard a news staff featuring Gabriel Heatter, Wythe Williams, and Boake Carter. Lowell Thomas was on NBC as was Walter Winchell (whose commentaries had moved from mainly celebrity gossip to political commentary, as he vehemently insisted for months that the US should enter the war). There was Edward R. Murrow in Europe doing reports for CBS, where he worked alongside of a growing corps of both radio and print journalists sent to do on the scene coverage. The black press (or, more accurately for those times, the "Negro press") was there too -- the highly acclaimed coverage of news from France by the Pittsburgh Courier had even been praised by Time Magazine, which noted that the Courier was one of the first newspapers to cover the situation in France.
The radio networks (and many local stations) now provided special daily newscasts which summarised the day's war-related events. NBC had a show called "News of Europe" every morning, and another in the evening called "News Here and Abroad"; CBS offered similar shows. Both networks began offering free tickets on weekends for servicemen who wanted to see the network shows. (As more men got drafted, we would begin to hear more women on the air in non-traditional roles. In 1941, Dorothy Thompson and Helen Hiett were among those women heard doing news and commentary, but even the so-called "women's shows" were gradually discussing war-related themes, as were the farm and home shows -- NBC, for example, had a National Farm and Home Hour, but it was now devoting part of the show to defence news...)
By September, after an increasing number of US ships were fired upon by German submarines, President Roosevelt issued an order to shoot any German or Italian ships on sight if they were found in waters the US had promised to defend. But the crisis continued to escalate; on 30 October, the US destroyer Reuben James was sunk by a German submarine off the coast of Iceland (a part of the territory the US had agreed to protect), and 100 American lives were lost. On 7 December, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. On 8 December, the President asked Congress to agree with his decision to declare war on Japan. The vote in the House was overwhelmingly in favour; but one person dissented -- she was Jeannette Rankin, an avowed pacifist who also had voted against entering World War 1. The US officially entered World War 2 with that declaration of War, and what happened after is a story for a later article ...
Prior to the declaration of war, the prospect of war loomed for much of 1941. Many Americans were worried about their future. A Roper Poll noticed that 61.2% of the American people believed Germany was a threat to the United States, especially if the Allies were defeated. In such insecure times, Americans depended on the mass media not only to inform them, but to entertain and reassure them. So you may have started your day with Arthur Godfrey, who was doing an early morning show in 1941, or listened to Don McNeill and the Breakfast Club.
There was a wide variety of music on radio in 1941 -- if you liked country (often called "Hillbilly" music back then), Gene Autry had his own show, the Melody Ranch, and of course, the Grand Ole Opry was still a huge favourite every Saturday night. It was still a year when the great band-leaders dominated the charts, and big bands played the music people loved. If you turned on your radio in early 1941, for example, you would have heard hits from Artie Shaw ("Frenesi"), Jimmy Dorsey ("I Hear a Rhapsody"), Benny Goodman ("There'll Be Some Changes Made"), and Gene Krupa ("It All Comes Back to Me Now"). Of course, there was always a Glenn Miller record on the charts, such as "Song of the Volga Boatmen" or "Chattanooga Choo Choo"; and you probably listened faithfully to his radio show on the CBS network.
Several other band-leaders had their own shows, such as Eddie Duchin, who was on the Mutual Network in 1941, and Xavier Cugat on NBC. Such greats as Guy Lombardo, Duke Ellington and Tommy Dorsey also had hits and made network appearances. Louis Armstrong and jazz great Earl "Fatha" Hines recorded an album that got many positive reviews.
Among popular female vocalists were the Andrews Sisters with their hit "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy". Perhaps you had even purchased that new Emerson Phonoradio (only $49.95, including an automatic record changer) so that you could play all your favourite songs at home: there seemed to be so many good records (on 78 rpm discs, of course). And while we are speaking of record players and radios, if you submitted a question to The Quiz Kids show and the question was used on the air, your prize was a Zenith portable.
In 1941, you could get plenty of gossip and celebrity news from your local newspaper, which probably carried the syndicated columns of Louella Parsons or Ed Sullivan (yes, the same Ed Sullivan who would become famous for his TV variety show starting in the late 40s...). When not listening for the latest news about the war, you still enjoyed Amos 'n' Andy, who in 1941 did their first remote broadcast from Harlem. Many of you enjoyed the soap operas and radio dramas: there was Young Dr. Malone on CBS, or When A Girl Marries on NBC (both sponsored by General Foods); versatile actress Irene Rich was heard on NBC with Dear John, sponsored as always by Welch's Grape Juice. Speaking of radio actresses, you might have heard Agnes Moorhead in Bringing Up Father, also on NBC.
There was variety and comedy too-- the Texaco Star Theatre, featuring Fred Allen, was on CBS; Kate Smith was also on CBS. The crime drama Gang Busters was back on radio, and Basil Rathbone was playing "Sherlock Holmes"; Entertainment industry newspaper Variety singled him out in October of 1941 as one of the best actors on the air. And speaking of the best in radio, Jack Benny was celebrating 10 years in radio in 1941, and much of the year, the top-rated show was Fibber McGee and Molly. William Boyd brought "Hopalong Cassidy" to radio in 1941, and a unique show was done by band-leader and vocalist Cab Calloway, who hosted a black-oriented musical quiz show on WOR in New York. Of course, the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, made a number of guest appearances on the networks, and she was as comfortable on radio as her husband the President was.
In sports, the big news was the numerous successful title defences the great boxer Joe Louis made -- seven of them in 1941. Meanwhile baseball star Hank Greenberg left baseball to join the army, a trend which many other athletes would follow. And if you were a horse-racing fan, you saw Whirlaway, ridden by Eddie Arcaro, win the Kentucky Derby.
Perhaps you went to see that new Walt Disney movie "Dumbo", or Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane". There was also a re-make of a 1931 movie, "The Maltese Falcon", with this version starring the popular Humphrey Bogart. The Best Picture academy award went to "How Green Was My Valley"; Gary Cooper was Best Actor ("Sergeant York"), and Joan Fontaine won Best Actress for "Suspicion".
1941 was the year the USO was founded-- it began establishing clubs all over the world where off-duty servicemen could relax and socialise. (Several of my older female relatives recall that they met their future husbands while volunteering at a branch of the USO...)
The economy was heating up, thanks to the fact that the US was providing materials to those fighting against the Axis. The "Lend-Lease Bill" was signed by FDR, allowing American goods and armaments to be furnished to democratic countries which needed them to resist the Nazis. To expedite the hiring process as American industry shifted out of peace-time mode and into supporting the war effort, the Fair Employment Practices Committee was created by executive order; its job was to prevent discrimination by race, creed or colour in defence-related work.
In 1941, you could buy a new car for $850, a loaf of bread was 8 cents, while a gallon of milk cost 54 cents. You could buy a gallon of gas for 12 cents, but some states had already begun imposing curfews on the hours gas stations could be open. Virtually all of the newspaper and magazine advertisements by year's end were inserting reminders to help the war effort into their ad copy. "Berlin Diary" by William L. Shirer became a best-selling book, and kids adored "My Friend Flicka" by Mary O'Hara. A couple of experimental TV stations were on the air, but not many people could afford the equipment necessary to watch, and programming was very limited. FM radio was available in many cities, playing either classical music or simulcasting the programs of the AM station which owned it. As the United States moved towards war, the music industry began putting out more and more patriotic songs, while plays with patriotic themes became more common (Lillian Hellman's war drama "Watch on the Rhine" was quite successful). Events that would change the lives of millions of Americans were about to occur, and many of those changes started in 1941...
For those who had hoped World War II would end swiftly, it continued to dominate the news in 1943. If you were growing up that year, you probably recall there was more rationing-- last year, it had been coffee and then gasoline. This year, first it was shoes (you could own three pair of leather shoes annually), and then came the coupon books so that certain foods (including meats, processed food, and cheese) could also be rationed. Here is a soundbyte from an Energine shoe polish commercial that mentioned rationed shoes.
As meat became scarce, Tuesdays and Fridays became "meatless days". But you didn't complain-- you knew it was necessary to help the war effort, and you did your part. President Roosevelt put a price freeze into effect to combat inflation-- he froze wages, but he also froze prices. However, the economy was not on the average person's mind as much as trying to get the latest news about "our boys" overseas. Many wives, mothers, fathers, and younger siblings waited anxiously to hear the news, and radio provided it.
Of course, there was censorship-- the OWI (Office of War Information) made sure that information given on the networks did not compromise national security. But for the average American, any information was better than none. Among the news commentators you heard were the esteemed Edward R. Murrow on CBS; Gabriel Heatter and Boake Carter on Mutual; H.V. Kaltenborn (who first began commenting on news back in 1922!) was still reporting, now for NBC; Dorothy Thompson and Raymond Gram Swing were working for the Blue Network-- and it was no longer NBC Blue (the Blue Network was about to be sold to businessman Edward Noble; the FCC ruled in 1943 that one company could not own two networks, forcing NBC to divest itself of Blue, while keeping what had been known as the Red network).
There were numerous discussion shows and round-tables, and the weekly news magazine "The March of Time" was still popular-- you heard it on NBC. Meanwhile, the American government had begun broadcasting special programming overseas-- the Voice of America had been started in 1942, to combat the enemy propaganda of people like "Axis Sally"; in July 1943, the American Forces Network began to broadcast music, news, sports, and information to the troops. And you probably enjoyed reading war correspondent Ernie Pyle's columns about the lives and experiences of the GI's during the war.
The war continued to bring about social change, as more women were doing jobs previously done by men. The image of "Rosie the Riveter" was a reflection of reality-- around two million American women were working in war-related industries in 1943. Women in the military were also distinguishing themselves-- there were now the WACs (Women's Army Corps) and also the WAVES (Women Appointed for Volunteer Emergency Service)-- some of these women "manned" the airport control towers; because their work involved climbing ladders, they were given permission to wear pants.
Women were also flying supplies to the men in combat, often risking their lives to do so; their training was supervised by the respected woman aviator Jacqueline Cochran. And speaking of risking their lives, in 1943, the "Tuskegee Flyers", the Army Air Forces' first all-black (or "Negro", as they would have been called back then) fighter squadron fought bravely in North Africa; even Time Magazine commended the Flyers for their skill, noting that after seeing them perform with such distinction, the white airmen who had originally doubted them were forced to admit this squadron's aerial marksmanship made their unit "one of the best." (Time Magazine, 21 June 1943, p. 70)(Note: The Tuskegee Airmen is the only squadron in history to newer have lost a bomer it protected to enemy aircraft!)
Some battles were won: in March, the British and American forces captured two cities formerly held by the Germans-- Tunis and Bizerte; also in March, in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, Allied troops defeated Japanese forces near New Guinea. In September, Allied forces took back Salerno, south of Naples. But no matter how hopeful the news seemed, there were still huge numbers of casualties, and the war was still not over. At year's end, President Roosevelt named General Dwight D. Eisenhower the Supreme Commander of the forces soon to invade Europe.
But there were other events in 1943. The Jefferson Memorial was dedicated in Washington DC in mid April. And earlier that year, in January, the Pentagon had been completed-- it was considered the world's largest office building, taking up 34 acres, at a cost of $64 million. And while the Indianapolis 500 and the US Open were not held, the World Series was-- the Yankees won-- and so was the Kentucky Derby, won by Count Fleet.
Many athletes enlisted in the service, as did a number of entertainers, but in the tradition of "the show must go on", 1943 saw many incredible performances. The ever-popular Bob Hope led the USO shows, helping to boost the morale of the soldiers overseas; he performed along with Frances Langford and other stars from his radio show. Many of Hollywood's and radio's best volunteered their time and scheduled USO tours-- in 1943, these included Adolph Menjou, Burns & Allen, Robert Young, and Judy Garland. And Kate Smith's manager estimated that she had logged over 60,000 miles making appearances and doing radio shows from Army, Navy and Marine training centers throughout the United States.
On stage, you may have seen the famous Negro actor and singer Paul Robeson performing in Othello. Perhaps you took your mind off your worries by attending the opening on Broadway of Rogers & Hammerstein's "Oklahoma", which would become a sensation; several songs from this musical became hits, including "Surrey with the Fringe on Top" and "Oh What A Beautiful Morning."
Speaking of hits, many songs in 1943 reflected the war-- such as "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition"; so did the Best Picture of the Year-- "Casablanca" starring Humphrey Bogart. Naturally, the movie's title song "As Time Goes By" was revived as a hit by Rudy Vallee. The Mills Brothers were on the charts with "Paper Doll", Harry James had several hits, as did Bing Crosby and Glenn Miller. But the big news in music was a young man named Frank Sinatra-- his fans (called "bobby-soxers") gathered in huge throngs wherever he performed; at one 1943 engagement at the Paramount Theater in New York, as many as 30,000 fans grew uncontrollable, and the riot police had to be called. Meanwhile, Country music had a long-running hit show on radio-- the National Barn Dance was celebrating its 500th consecutive broadcast over NBC in early May. Bandleader Joe Rines (whose radio career began at one of America's first radio stations, 1XE/WGI way back in 1921) was now on the air for the Blue Network with a new show called "Rhythm Road"; it featured his orchestra and vocalist Helen O'Connell.
Perhaps you read "Radio Mirror, the magazine of Radio Romances"; you certainly read what had once been called just "Radio Guide" but was now "Movie-Radio Guide."
Among the new radio programs in 1943 were the "Judy Canova Show" (in her supporting cast were Gale Gordon, Mel Blanc, and Ruby Dandridge) and "Nick Carter, Master Detective". The comic strip "Archie" led to a new radio show, "Archie Andrews" "Breakfast in Hollywood" debuted in 1943, starring Tom Breneman and Garry Moore. And perhaps you heard Groucho Marx on the air for Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer with his new comedy/variety show "Blue Ribbon Town."
For educational and children's programming, one of the most respected women on the air was Dorothy Gordon, whose "Youth Forum" gave young panelists a chance to talk about the issues of the day and talk with famous adults like Dwight D. Eisenhower or Dr. Ralph Bunche.
Meanwhile, "Amos 'n' Andy" was cancelled by its sponsor after 15 years and 4,000 consecutive shows; it wasn't due to bad ratings, but rather to the war-time shortage of tin, which meant Campbell Soup could no longer afford to be the show's sponsor. The show did re-appear in a slightly different format later in the year, sponsored by Rinso.
Experiments with FM continued, and most major cities had at least one FM station by now (and you would not have recognised the call letters-- the one in Boston, for example, was W43B; it would not be till late in the year that FM stations received call letters similar to what we use today), but the majority of the public was still committed to AM. Television was not yet a factor either, but shortwave was popular and people enjoyed hearing stations overseas.
Science brought us a number of innovations in 1943, including a new word-- "antibiotics" coined by Selman Waksman, who discovered streptomycin; a local anesthetic, xylocaine, was also invented, and farmers were delighted to hear about DDT. 1943 was also the year for "Uncle Ben's Converted Rice", and the city of Chicago got a subway for the first time. The average person made $2,041 a year, with a loaf of bread costing ten cents and a gallon of milk sixty-two cents.
Segregation was being challenged-- Marian Anderson, the beloved contralto, performed at Constitution Hall in Washington DC (which had refused to allow her to sing there several years earlier), the first performer of color to do so. Many Negro entertainers were heard on the radio, but daily life was still segregated in most cities (white workers objected to blacks getting hired for defense-related work in Detroit plants; protests ensued, tensions escalated, and the result was that city's unfortunate race riot, in which 34 people died). On the other hand, it was not just the highly trained Tuskegee Flyers who were written up favourably in the press; coloured troops were winning acclaim in a number of places, and Negro journalists were doing a commendable job of reporting from overseas.
1943 was a year of on-going battles in countries most Americans had seldom thought about till World War II. It was a year of doing without, yet maintaining a patriotic spirit. It was a year when the radio, the movies and the big bands helped us to keep our balance, in a world that often seemed so uncertain, a world still at war.
As 1945 began, World War II was still raging on, but at least there was some hopeful news -- in mid January, American forces liberated the Philippines. As the year progressed, there would be other news that was not so hopeful, shocking news of concentration camps in Europe, and sad news about the death of President Roosevelt. But on a day to day basis, what was probably on your mind was wondering how the boys overseas were doing -- it seemed that just about everyone had some family member fighting the Nazis. (There were even some women in the military, although not in combat roles -- the WACS and the WAVES had become much more accepted, and many young women signed up to help their country. The 12 March issue of Time magazine featured a cover story about some of these women, especially Captain Mildred McAfee of the U.S. Naval Reserves.)
Americans were still dealing with the effects of rationing -- you couldn't even buy a new car, since most companies had shut down their assembly lines during the war. Even the magazines were affected, since paper was also limited, and magazines were being asked by the War Production Board to conserve. A few magazines went from weeklies to monthlies, and some ceased publication, but there was still plenty to read. Among the most popular were Time and Newsweek, but you also enjoyed Life, Reader's Digest, Look (movie star Rita Hayworth made the cover in early March), Coronet, and Saturday Evening Post. Movie fans loved Photoplay (there was an interesting article about Judy Garland in the April issue); Radio Mirror had added the word "television" to its title, but it was still mostly about radio stars and celebrity gossip. There was Downbeat for fans of jazz and big band music: you could always find interesting stories about the performers. In January, the tragic disappearance of Glenn Miller's plane on a flight from England to Paris was still front page news, as his fans hoped for the best; but on a more cheerful note, the great Duke Ellington gave a very impressive concert, including several new songs, and the critics were eagerly awaiting some new recordings from him. Downbeat also offered lots of photographs of talented performers -- and a weekly cover photo of a popular star, such as Frances Langford or Peggy Mann. Another must-read for music fans was Song Hits, which provided the lyrics to all the songs you loved, and also had plenty of pictures of the people who performed them. African-Americans had an important new feature magazine, as Chicago-based publisher John H. Johnson put out Ebony; and the members of the Armed Forces were probably reading Stars and Stripes.
With so many men fighting overseas, women still made up a large part of the work-force, and you could find them in many non-traditional jobs: in media, for example, there were quite a few all-female radio stations, since most of the male announcers had been drafted. Interestingly, despite stereotypes about what the female gender was incapable of learning, a number of women who had been ham radio operators were quickly trained to be radio engineers, and they kept the stations on the air throughout the war. A few women even became war correspondents, reporting from the scene of some of the fiercest battles and keeping people informed about how the troops were doing. The Boston Globe hired British journalist Iris Carpenter, who travelled with the 3rd Armored Division and wrote compelling stories about what she saw. And you may have read May Craig's commentary -- she wrote for the Gannett newspapers -- or Eleanor Packard's war reports -- she was a correspondent for United Press. The best known of the female radio commentators, Dorothy Thompson, only did an occasional broadcast by this time, but she still wrote articles for various magazines. Several women print reporters tried to get on the air doing news, but they encountered considerable opposition from the men at the networks-- among the men opposed to women doing broadcast news was the legendary Edward R. Murrow. (If you want to read more about the changing roles of women in media, Invisible Stars : A Social History of Women in American Broadcasting goes into much greater detail.) As for popular broadcast journalists, in addition to Murrow and his colleagues Eric Sevareid and Bob Trout, pioneer newsman H.V. Kaltenborn (who had first done radio news in 1921) was still on the air. In print, one of the most respected war correspondents, Ernie Pyle, lost his life in August when he was hit by Japanese gunfire as he covered the fighting in the South Pacific; he was one of fifteen journalists killed that year. Another popular journalist was cartoonist Bill Mauldin, whose depictions of the typical "dogface soldiers" Joe and Willie, won him a Pulitzer prize; Life Magazine did an article about him in early February.
As the war dragged on, you tried to find ways to keep your mind occupied, while waiting for news from your soldier or sailor. It was a good time to be a sports fan -- despite the fact that many players were now fighting overseas, there was still a pennant race, and it was an exciting one in 1945. Star players like Mel Ott of the New York Giants made the cover of Time magazine in early July, and in late September, fan favorite Hank Greenberg hit a dramatic home run -- on the final day of the season -- to win the pennant for the Detroit Tigers. But as I said earlier, women were working in some non-traditional occupations, and baseball was no exception. In 1945, the The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League continued to develop a loyal following. It was founded in 1943 by Phil Wrigley, and in 1945, you were reading about some of its best players in a 4 June feature article in Life Magazine. (Speaking of baseball, few people realized that behind the scenes, a major social change was about to occur: Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey was working on a way to end segregation in his sport, and in August, he met with a young African-American athlete named (Lt. U.S.A.)Jackie Robinson, who was playing in the Negro Leagues at that time. By late October, Rickey had signed Robinson to a contract, and soon after, baseball history would be made.)
But baseball wasn't the only diversion; of course, there was music, and 1945 was a good year for it. If you liked that up-and-coming singer Frank Sinatra, you heard him in late January on the Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy Show on NBC (sponsored by Chase & Sanborn coffee); he also had a number of hits, including "Saturday Night is the Loneliest Night of the Week", and "Dream" -- and if that song sounded familiar, it had first been the closing theme for Johnny Mercer's radio show on NBC. Among the other big hits, the Andrews Sisters did very well with "Rum and Coca Cola"; bandleader Les Brown had two number one songs, "Sentimental Journey" and "My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time", and Stan Kenton had a huge hit with "Tampico". Also popular in early to mid 1945 were Johnny Mercer with "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive", and Ella Fitzgerald teamed up with the Ink Spots to do "I'm Beginning to See the Light". Jo Stafford, who also sang with the Pied Pipers, had her first big hit in May, with "Candy", and Perry Como had several hits -- for Perry, his first #1 song came in August with "Till the End of Time". But nothing cheered people up more than comedy, and Spike Jones was on the charts in 1945 with "Chloe" (who could forget that immortal line, "Where are you, you old bat"?) and a great parody of "Cocktails for Two".
You continued to depend on radio; as it got you through the Depression, so it helped you through the war. In April 1945, a new show went on the air on Mutual; "Queen for a Day" was a big hit with the female audience, and a few years later, it became a popular TV show. Also new in 1945 were several detective shows, "Philo Vance", starring Jose Ferrer, and "Hercule Poirot", based on the well-known Agatha Christie murder mysteries; and the crime drama "This is Your FBI" also made its debut. And New York radio fans got an unexpected bonus: in July, when there was a newspaper strike, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia went on the air and read the comic strips so people wouldn't have to miss their favorite. Later, in October 1945, an important news show began: "Meet the Press", which would eventually go on to a long and successful career on TV. Throughout the year, the established programs such as "Fibber McGee and Molly" and the "Bob Hope Show" continued to get good ratings. You could still hear many radio stars who had been around for a long time, such as Eddie Cantor (assisted by Bert Gordon and announcer Harry Von Zell) and Jack Benny -- in 1945, you were enjoying the talented Mel Blanc doing several character voices, but of course there were still Mary Livingstone and the much loved Rochester. Arthur Godfrey finally got his own network series, "Arthur Godfrey Time" on CBS beginning in April. And the Armed Forces Radio Service was making sure the GIs overseas got their share of excellent entertainment: "Command Performance" featured such stars as Bing Crosby, Dinah Shore, Judy Garland, and Jimmy Durante, all of whom donated their time to help the war effort. And on 14 June, what had once been the NBC Blue Network officially became known as ABC under its new owner, Edward J. Noble (who had bought it in 1943 and operated it as the "Blue Network" till now).
A milestone was reached at the Miss America pageant, when Bess Myerson became the first Jewish winner; unfortunately, during her reign, she experienced a number of anti-Semitic incidents. This was especially ironic given that 1945 was the year the world learnt about the death camps and the murder of millions of Jews, as the Allies liberated the camps and news reporters, Edward R. Murrow among them, gave on the scene accounts. Americans were shocked at the brutality of the Nazis, and commentators remarked upon how tolerance is an essential American value. As if to reinforce that point, Frank Sinatra made a short film called "The House I Live In", in which he spoke out and sang about the need for all Americans to accept each other's race, religion, and ethnicity. Today, that seems rather obvious, but in 1945, it needed to be said, in a country that was still racially segregated, where a Jewish Miss America was sometimes treated rudely, and where Japanese-Americans were still in internment camps. Sinatra made his statement eloquently, and the film won a special Academy Award.
There were many big news stories in the first few months of 1945 -- in addition to the liberation of the concentration camps starting in January, there was the Yalta Conference in early February (attended by President Roosevelt, along with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin).
Later in February, the Marines were victorious at Iwo Jima, commemorated by an award-winning photograph of them raising the American flag. And then, on 12 April, President Roosevelt died of a cerebral hemorrhage. He was only 63, and his death touched millions. Radio stations dropped all commercials for several days, people wept in the streets as the funeral cortege passed, and suddenly Vice President Harry S. Truman found himself President of the United States. Ironically, two of the other protagonists in the war drama also died in April -- Italy's Benito Mussolini was executed and Germany's Adolph Hitler committed suicide. After that, Germany finally surrendered on 8 May; it would take until 15 August for the Japanese to surrender, after two devastating atomic bombs destroyed the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The formal surrender ceremony occurred on September 2; the war was finally over. America was caught up in a massive celebration -- the troops could finally come home and life could return to some semblance of normal again.
Overlooked in the initial euphoria was the fact that black soldiers, who had fought valiantly overseas, were coming back to a still-segregated America. Having defended American values like freedom and democracy against Nazi tyranny, many returning soldiers would become frustrated at being denied equal rights at home. Radio had been very reticent to discuss America's racial divide, even on news programs; and while certain black performers like Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald had gained mass appeal, by and large, radio was still a mainly white industry. The few black characters on the air were usually typecast as servants, and frequently not very intelligent or honest servants. Jack Benny's black valet Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, had a role that was somewhat more respectfully done than most -- he and Benny often engaged in repartee, and Rochester could give as good as he got--but Rochester still fit most of the stereotypes. In 1945, you seldom if ever heard a black announcer on the network, although in a small but growing number of cities, there were local stations with black announcers. And in one new CBS show, "Beulah", the black maid was not black at all, and not even a woman -- the role was played by a white man, Marlin Hurt. As for black dramatic actors, they seldom found any challenging roles. One welcome exception was a theater company founded in Harlem in 1940: in 1945, New York's WNEW began airing some of the productions of this critically acclaimed group, the American Negro Theater; among the performers whose careers started there were Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte.
Also overlooked when the war ended was what would happen to the many women who had worked in every industry, including broadcasting. Before the war, companies required them to sign agreements which stated that once the men came back, the women would simply resign from their jobs. In our modern world, it is doubtful that such a transition would have occurred without protests and lawsuits, but in late 1945, most women accepted it and left without much of a fight. Magazine ads that had shown a confident "Rosie the Riveter" were about to be replaced by a smiling housewife, extolling the joys of having the perfect home. In radio, the change must have been very noticeable -- where stations had relied on women reporters, writers, and announcers during the war, now nearly all of those women were replaced by men. To be fair, the women of the 40s were probably willing to let the man have their jobs back -- the idea of a "career woman" was not common in that era, and society's expectation was that women should be homemakers or do volunteer, charitable work. Some surveys showed that a large number of women wished they could have continued working, even part-time, but already the marriage rate was skyrocketing, as returning soldiers married their sweethearts, and the national conversation turned to having a home and raising a family.
But while 1945 showed signs of potential social change, that was not on most people's minds. What had affected nearly everyone's life had been rationing. On 15 September, much of it finally came to an end -- first, rationing of gasoline and fuel oil ended, and so did those 35 m.p.h. speed limits; then on 30 October, came the end of shoe rationing. As each item gradually was restored (and many people couldn't wait to buy a new car after all this time without one), a new optimism pervaded the culture. Not only was the war over, but so were the many little inconveniences. There were new toys to invent, new games to play, and of course there were movies to see. In November 1945, the first Slinky was demonstrated; it had been created by Richard James, a Philadelphia engineer, and his wife Betty had come up with the name. Other new inventions in 1945 included one from New Hampshire's Earl S. Tupper, who created food storage containers which came to be known as "Tupperware". And although you couldn't buy one yet, a Raytheon engineer named Percy Spencer invented what became the microwave oven. Ballpoint pens were big sellers in 1945, as the new and improved models didn't tear the paper and contained plenty of ink; also catching on was something we today call "frozen foods" -- back then, the best-known brand, Birdseye, called the product "frosted foods" and popular singer Dinah Shore appeared in magazine advertisements doing testimonials about how convenient these items were. And speaking of advertising, in 1945 you heard a lot of radio ads from Procter & Gamble Co., which according to Broadcasting magazine, spent around $11 million for commercial time.
You probably were not that much aware of some of the new technology, but 1945 was the year the first electronic computer was built (it was completed in November). ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator Analyzer and Computer) was a huge machine with 17,468 vacuum tubes, 70,000 resistors, 10,000 capacitors, 1,500 relays, and 6,000 manual switches.
Computer terminology was developing too: a Navy engineer, Grace Murray Hopper, was working in the computer laboratory at Harvard when she found that the reason one machine wasn't working was that a moth had flown into a relay; this gave birth to the term "computer bug", a term commonly used to explain any glitch in a computer's programming. And while some people say the story is a legend, the Navy has a display that commemorate Admiral Hopper's many achievements, and it contains her log book from August 1945, with the moth taped to a page and a note explaining where it had been found. And as for other technological advances, we moved much closer to having TV available to everyone when in October, the FCC lifted the wartime ban on opening new television stations or manufacturing equipment. But there were still only nine TV stations on the air, and about 7,000 people had TV sets. WNBT in New York was one of the earliest, and it did numerous demonstrations with department store retailers, in the hopes that more people would purchase televisions. However, TV had a way to go before the average person would be familiar with it -- in fact, George Gallup was conducting a poll to find out how many people had ever heard of TV or had ever seen a demonstration.
Movies were still what most people preferred in 1945, and the biggest box office hit was probably "The Bells of St. Mary's", starring Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman; it made $21.3 million. Other popular movies included "State Fair" (which included the hit song "It Might as Well Be Spring"), and "Anchors Aweigh" -- the first movie Frank Sinatra did in color. "The Lost Weekend" won an Academy Award for Best Picture, and Ray Milland was named Best Actor for his realistic portrayal of alcoholism in that movie. Joan Crawford won Best Actress for her role in "Mildred Pierce". As for books, 1945 was the year George Orwell wrote "Animal Farm". And in theater, you may have seen Tennessee Williams' outstanding drama, "The Glass Menagerie on Broadway.
If you were working at the average job in 1945, the minimum wage was now boosted to 40 cents an hour. You could buy a gallon of milk for about 62 cents and a loaf of bread was 9 cents. A new car, however, was around $1,000, although some luxury cars, like the Cadillac, could cost as much as $2500. Meanwhile, efforts were made to get Congress to pass an Equal Pay for Equal Work bill, but to no avail. (It would not pass till 1963.) And now it can be told: the popular graffitti that servicemen (and many other people) wrote everywhere, "Kilroy was Here" was named for an inspector of rivets at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy MA -- and yes, there really was a (James) Kilroy.
The year ended with the Irving Berlin classic "White Christmas" at #1 on the charts; sung by Bing Crosby, it would sell millions world-wide. The many Sinatra fans were happy that, just like the year had begun with their hero making a guest appearance on radio, the year concluded the same way, as Frank sang his hit "Nancy With the Laughing Face" on the Ginny Simms show. The United States agreed to join the United Nations, the annual Army-Navy football game ended with Army victorious (President Truman attended, and according to Time, he rooted for Army); and those who celebrated Christmas had a difficult time finding any holly (not because of rationing -- but because of bad weather in those states where most of it was grown). Meanwhile, the kids all wanted to go see that Disney movie "Pinocchio" -- it was in technicolor and featured the hit song "When You Wish Upon a Star". And as America greeted the new year, the Baby Boom was about to start, and it would change society in ways few people could predict.